|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]
The British body politic has been left floundering about in a way which has led to humorous allusions around Europe and wider afield, not least in Ireland despite the high stakes. If you did not laugh you might cry and it is a serious constitutional crisis for the UK. Society is hopelessly divided. The UK parliament is hopelessly divided (and the DUP has played its role in that division). There is no obvious way forward except to take more time to try to decide – and even that may not pull a rabbit from the hat. A no deal Brexit may be the last thing most people and parliamentarians want – apart from a small minority on the right - but it has been, and remains, a real risk of the whole decision making debacle. Television news has never been as well watched as the Brexit soap opera unveils its latest twists and turns.
We have already analysed the situation and context in these pages ad nauseam. However we cannot resist returning to the issue in relation to the positive effort by the House of Commons in Westminster to ‘take control’ though a series of ‘indicative votes’ which got nowhere with no one option reaching a majority.
However as anyone familiar with the work of the de Borda Institute www.deborda.org would know (see e.g. Press Releases 51 and 50 there), taking a series of majority votes to try to establish which policy has a majority is not a way to establish a decision or a viable compromise – even though the approaches which came closest were identified as possible ways forward they had no traction. The situation remains deadlocked.
What has been needed is a system which establishes people’s order of preference, and this could have been done very easily by a Modified Borda Count (information at www.deborda.org) If this had been used initially it could quickly have established where there was a possibility which could be coalesced around; it is clear that given the divisions which exist there would be no outright ‘consensus’, but by seeing what was people’s order of preference it might have been possible to cobble together something, from the options which had most support, that would have had sufficiently widespread agreement to proceed.
The failure to try to establish a UK consensus or agreement, or even some clear course, before triggering Article 50 was a major, and it has proved almost insuperable, flaw. This was a consquence of decisions made by Theresa May’s government and its overall negotiating strategy has been woeful. The UK electoral and parliamentary system with its ‘winner takes all’ approach has contributed to the debacle and even when, at the last general election, May was only a partial winner she continued with this approach except when pulled up by the DUP or her own right wing.
It was never going to be easy and of course (as previously analysed) we dispute the decision making rationale behind the whole enterprise. Only now, after the clock has struck Brexit leaving time, is May starting to try to negotiate something across the House of Commons and involving the Labour Party. We reiterate the point that ‘how you make decisions may be the most important decision you make’. Perhaps in relation to where the UK is at we might add that “if you don’t choose to make decisions through appropriate means you may fail to make a decision at all”. This is a lesson for us, whoever and wherever we are, not just those who should have already decided quite some time ago how to proceed in relation to the UK’s membership of the EU. Consider how your considerations can be considerate or consider the consequences.
Not dealing with the past
It was incredible that that Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley could say in the House of Commons at Westminster, in early March, about killings in Northern Ireland during the Troubles that ”The fewer than ten per cent that were at the hands of the military and police were not crimes. They were people acting under orders and under instruction and fulfilling their duty in a dignified and appropriate way.”
It was even more incredible as this was juxtaposed at that time with a witness in the Ballymurphy shootings inquest, who had been a boy at the time, speaking about how he clearly saw a British soldier killing a badly wounded and incapacitated man at short range with a hand gun, and laughing in the process. Bradley’s statement was factually incorrect, bizarrely politically biassed, and indicated a slim understanding of international law where ‘following orders’ is not an excuse for illegal actions.
Karen Bradley was subsequently involved in a series of grovelling apologies for what she said, indicating she didn’t mean it, but there was no explanation of why she said what she said, nor how it seemed she was referring to notes at the time she spoke. Perhaps she subsequently offered to resign to Theresa May – though there is no evidence for this – and May said ‘no’ given she has been so desperate to have people close to her who were loyal.
The later announcement that only one soldier would be prosecuted for actions in relation to deaths caused by the British Army in Derry on Bloody Sunday in 1972 has been a considerable disappointment for campaigners on this issue and for others. It does point to the fact that ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’. Obviously there is the question of what evidence would stand up in court, and the different standard of evidence required compared to the Saville Inquiry on Bloody Sunday, but the result was disappointing.
On the issue of a possible amnesty, or statute of limitations, for British armed forces personnel, perhaps the message has got through, though evidently not to everyone, that what is done for one party in the conflict has to be done for everyone. You might also like to think that an official or state armed body might be expected to have a higher standard of conduct than an unofficial paramilitary body, but that might in many cases be wishful thinking. There is no indication, as some British ex-military and unionists claim, that British forces are being unfairly targetted in current investigations. And in the few cases there have been convictions of British soldiers in the past they have tended to serve a short stint in prison before being released back into the army.
The general mechanisms for dealing with the past in Northern Ioreland have been set out. There has been report after report and only very limited initiatives and funding. The mechanisms or architecture were detailed clearly in the Stormont House Agreement of 2014 and the subsequent Fresh Start (sic) Agreement of 2015. Delaying further is denying justice and insight to so many who have suffered years of pain and anguish over the death of loved ones, right across the board. Reluctance to back concerted work on dealing with the past is totally counterproductive as it feeds into cross-generational grievance as well as continuing the anguish of victims and their loved ones.
Recently the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has, among other things, “reiterated their serious concerns about the delay in the establishment of the Historical Investigations Unit and other legacy institutions and underlined that, notwithstanding the complexity of the broader political picture, it is imperative that a way forward be found to enable effective investigations to be conducted”. (See caj.org.uk)
Northern Ireland deserves to be able to move on, insofar as is possible, to deal with the many issues of the here and now that need attention. To be able to do that requires that the past is dealt with as fully as practicable; it cannot be forgotten. Unfortunately, based on the track record, dealing with the past will continue being a bone of contention in the future, and that means more justice denied. This is not acceptable at myriad different levels and we need to continue to indicate to those who make decisions that this is so.
- - - - -
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
“More than half of the carbon exhaled into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels has been emitted in just the past three decades. Which means we have done as much damage to the fate of the planet and its ability to sustain life and civilization … than in all the centuries – all the millennia – that came before.”
The Uninhabitable Earth: A story of the Future, David Wallace-Wells, (2018), p.4.
On a recent evening walk with my teenage daughter we burst into a run against the wind, inhaling rivers of oxygen and increasing our heart beats to the point we could hear them thumping. The spontaneity, animation, sense of empowerment and joy experienced by running may have induced my daughter to remark that she wished she were a child again. On reverting to a walking pace I asked why. She replied that children are more open-minded and less judgemental that adults. They are full of curiosity, absorbent and not burdened by financial obligations. In a word they live in a more light-filled mental universe than adults.
This caused me to reflect that given the greater power adults have to affect the world than children they often behave as if they were as powerless as them. An example is their inertia in resolving the host of environmental problems we inherited, created and daily exacerbate. Problems that directly harm us and shrink the options, richness and quality of life of everyone. The business as usual approach of adults to the unhealthy state of the biosphere affects the young more than any other age-group as not only are they more vulnerable than adults they have a greater stake than adults in having a healthy biosphere.
I pondered if the children who in increasing numbers go on a school strike once a month in an attempt to persuade adults to address climate chaos, will, when adults, replicate the inertia and complacency most of their elders have towards the environmental disorders that afflict us. The striking pupils are inspired by 16-year old Greta Thunberg who protests every Friday on the steps of the Swedish parliament over its lack of action in addressing climate chaos. Thumberg began her protest last August and has become the de facto spokesperson for pupils in 125 countries loosely organised as Fridays for the Future. She spoke at the UN sponsored climate chaos talks in Poland in December, to the Davos meeting in January, and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The question is will the school strikes and the well-articulated arguments of the pupils persuade those with economic and political power – adults, to react to climate chaos in the way they would react, as Thumberg said, if their house was on fire? Or will the school strikes prove to be nothing less than ‘news entertainment’? Something politicians, bankers and corporations respond to with heart-warming rhetoric and tokenism rather than structural changes in how the world economy is organised and wealth distributed? Will the strikers and their environmentally aware peers significantly reduce their consumption of meat and dairy products, persuade their parents not to drive them to and from school, to buy used rather than new, Fairtrade rather than cheap labour and holiday locally rather than fly abroad? Such changes in behaviour would be to respond to climate chaos, the loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, pollution of all kinds, and other death inducing existentially impoverishing problems as if one’s house was on fire.
The counter-culture movement of the 1960s and early 1970s aimed to change the world for the better. Some important aspirations were realized, the improvement in the status of women and children could be said to be one of them, but given the state of the world today in terms of global military expenditure, the widening economic gap between the rich and the poor, and the disastrous plummet in biodiversity, they failed. Perhaps expecting the youth to persuade adults who have the power to act contrary to their socialization and the material benefits they derive from conforming to the status quo is to ask too much. Yet many adults are parents and if young people appeal to their inclination of wanting the best for their children they might succeed in persuading them to use their agency for the common good. They could also reawaken in adults the joy that comes from living simply and help them relearn life-enhancing, benign, status neutral ways of living.
The Guardian, 16 March 2019, quotes Veshalin Naidoo, 22, from Cape Town, South Africa as saying in regard to the pupil strikes:
“We cannot save our world, continent or country alone. Thus we are here to stand with school strikers across the globe and inspire everyday people to care.”
Care is the operative word. Care for our welfare and those we love is acted on by way of various types of insurance policies to help deal with possible undesirable events. We are encouraged to save for a rainy day and we look after things important to our everyday life such as our home and means of transport. We take care of our health through regular physical exercise, eating a balanced diet and good hygiene. Parents care about and financially support their children’s education so that they will live fulfilled, autonomous, socially useful lives. It is this all-embracing level of care we need to apply to the biosphere.
Among those who support the school strikers is Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, former UN high commissioner for human rights and special envoy for climate change and presently chair of the Elders. This is an independent group of global leaders founded by Nelson Mandela that works for human rights. Robinson’s support shows that the young have influential adults on their side. We should all be on the side of the inheritors of the Earth.